Coeliac screening at the pharmacy

Pharmacies are doing more and more work that used to be the domain of the doctor's office. You can now get your flu vaccine sorted, blood pressure checked, emergency contraceptive pill issued and even be screened for some health conditions all at your local chemist.

I was interested to recently discover that Life Pharmacy offers in-store coeliac blood testing. How super convenient!

I managed to harangue my husband (who has zero symptoms, but does carry the coeliac gene) to get tested - it was a negative, and he skited about it afterwards while eating his cake. It was definitely worth checking for us, because two coeliac parents could possibly have increased the likelihood of us having coeliac babies.

A week later, Stu (who you might remember from his recent dairy-related guest post), also called in for testing. He's been struggling with stomach 'issues', despite his strict dairy-free diet. Being the helpful lass that I am, I came along for the ride and also took photos.

The testing takes about two minutes - the pharmacy assistant takes a few drops of blood from your finger, adds it to a small tray that looks suspiciously like a pregnancy test stick, and you wait for ten minutes to see what lines show up in the testing window. The test is looking for antibodies to deaminated gliadin peptides (DGP) which are an indicator of coeliac disease. 

Lucky for Stu, his results were negative. This was also lucky for me because he said he'd cry if they came back positive, and no one wants to see a sobbing Englishman while they're shopping for cough medicine and bandaids. So Stu got to go home and have toast for dinner (disgusting habit by the way my friend). He also got to take home a sheet confirming his negative test result. Interestingly, the test report does say that a "very small number of cases ... can provide a negative result despite you actually having coeliac disease."

Which made me wonder ... how accurate is the test? and is the testing worthwhile?

When I got home (after listening to Stu's skiting about bread-eating) I emailed Coeliac New Zealand for their thoughts, and here's what they said: 

“While the point of care testing available in Pharmacies seems convenient, at this time Coeliac New Zealand cannot recommend that people use this for themselves or their children until further research and development is completed internationally. CNZ recommend the gold standard test for coeliac disease through your doctor and done by the laboratory blood test and, if necessary, a biopsy. However, if you do choose the pharmacy testing kit, keep in mind that the results can be inconclusive or false. Whatever the test result, the pharmacist will recommend you next take the test result to your GP and discuss it with them as part of a thorough consultation. CNZ believe that the extra cost ($63) associated with this test is unnecessary, when a GP visit is recommended regardless of the test result and the reliability of the PoCT is still under review.” Carl Sunderland - General Manager, Coeliac New Zealand.

More of an explanation/information is available on the Coeliac New Zealand website here

Hopefully the research will be completed soon because screening at the pharmacy is super handy! In the meantime, if you have symptoms, make sure you visit your doctor in the first instance.